Perpetuating ignorance

We should all value the scientific method, which has led to countless human benefits, whether we believe in science or not.

I recently wrote that potential presidential candidate Bobby Jindal, touted as not stupid, nevertheless appears to be anti-science.

Now it’s Marco Rubio’s turn. The Florida senator said he couldn’t tell how old the Earth is, whether created in seven days, or seven actual eras, or whatever science claims. He added, dismissively, “I’m not a scientist, man.”

You don’t have to be a scientist to accept the non-controversial findings among scientists that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old, plus or minus 50 million years. Given such ignorance, one wonders why Rubio serves on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

These personal (or pandering?) views are bad enough, but for Rubio the “crux” of the disagreement is “whether what a parent teaches their children at home should be mocked and derided and undone at the public school level.” He added, “I don’t want a school system that teaches kids that what they’re learning at home is wrong.”

Because some parents teach their children that blacks are inferior to whites and women should be subservient to men, does Rubio also think that schools should shrink from offering more modern points of view? If so, why not just keep children away from schools so they won’t be exposed to scientific and social views that conflict with what their parents believe? Oh, wait! We do allow home schooling.

And what about the widespread ignorance of politicians throughout the country on both the constitutional and practical need to separate church and state? Here’s an example in my hometown of Charleston, S.C.

In 1997, Charleston County’s then-Councilman Tim Scott insisted on posting a Ten Commandments plaque on the wall of council chambers despite being told that he would lose any legal challenge. Scott argued that the display was needed to remind residents of moral absolutes. The Charleston Post and Courier then asked Scott if he could name all the Commandments. Guess what? He couldn’t. Nor could any of the other council members who voted for the plaque. Perhaps they just wanted to multitask — learn Commandments while working on Council business.

When Scott posted a King James version of the Ten Commandments on the wall, the court, as expected, declared the display unconstitutional and handed taxpayers a substantial bill for legal costs. Scott, normally a fiscal conservative, said, “Whatever it costs in the pursuit of this goal (of displaying the Commandments) is worth it.”

Scott was subsequently elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, and in 2010 became the first African-American Republican in South Carolina to serve in the United States House of Representatives — and is now the only African American Republican in Congress. He is my Congressional representative, though I can’t say he represents my views.

Although liberal religionists know that the Bible contains anti-scientific passages, most people believe the Ten Commandments are among the finest guidelines for a virtuous life. However, few can name them, and even fewer have thought through their implications for our pluralistic, democratic, and freedom-loving society.

Take, for example, the First Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” which conflicts with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion — the right to worship one, several, or no gods. The next three Commandments (don’t make graven images, don’t take the name of the Lord in vain, and keep the Sabbath day holy) also conflict with our constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and expression.

These traditional Ten Commandments from Exodus 20 are just one of three sets. The Catholic version omits graven images and splits the coveting commandment into two.

In Exodus 34:12–28, the only place the Hebrew Bible refers to the Ten Commandments, the Tenth Commandment proclaims, “Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” However anachronistic and odd, I prefer it to the Tenth Commandment in Exodus 20: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, wife, slaves, ox, donkey, or any other property,” condoning slavery and treating women as property.

A one-ton block of granite depicting the Ten Commandments was recently installed on the grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol. This public property display promoting a particular religion will undoubtedly be declared unconstitutional. What is not controversial about the granite block are its misspellings. “Sabbath” is spelled “Sabbeth” and “maidservant” is spelled “maidseruent.”

Yes, we have the right to promote any version or spelling of the Ten Commandments. However, nobody may enlist the government to promulgate a particular religious view. Posting one of the versions of the Ten Commandments in government buildings allies the government with two creeds, Judaism and Christianity, and sends a message to Americans of other faiths (and the millions who reject supernatural beliefs) that they are second-class citizens.

In my view, those who claim to base their life on the Bible should at least learn what is in it — the good, the bad, and the often ugly. They should also learn why our founders created a secular constitution for “We the people,” which are the first three words of a Constitution that mentions no gods.

And we should all value the scientific method, which has led to countless benefits for all humankind — whether we believe in science or not.


Image via Shutterstock.

Herb Silverman
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  • Secular1

    In addition to the two funny tenth commandment Professor Silverman alluded to me teh ninth commandment is a direct invitation to lie. Of course the the first 4 are unconstitutional, as the good professor has pointed out. Then teh commandment on respecting ones parents with an inducement/bribery of long life is quite disgusting – that which is to be expected of a child without any inducements. The tenth commandment of course condones most of teh modern progressive views on slavery, equality of genders.

    My particular ire is against teh ninth commandment, which reads “Thoushalt not bear false witness, against thy neighbor” This commandment would have been only commandment I could have supported as it would have been the one with some ethics and morality to it. But als they had to ruin it with the three extra words in the end – “against thy neighbor”. There are two types of people (ones neighbors and non-neighbors) and two types of witnessing (Truthful and False) and also for or against teh person. This sets up 8 possibilities. Off these eight it enjoins the person to do the right thing. In the other 7 cases one is left with no guidance or subtle hint to do what is in the interest of the witness right or wrong. this they want to teach our children?

  • Secular1

    The question here is that the Repubs pander the ignorants among their base. A Brown graduate and Rhode Scholar Piyush Jindal is not ignorant of the facts about age of earth or evolution? Nether is the case with Mr. Rubio. All we have to do is which kind of education they offer to their own children. I bet they are not sending them to some redneck elementary school run by a cliques of ignorant bible thumpers. They however, do pander to the ignorants and let them roll in teh filth of ignorance like the pigs. Their own private positions are in variance with their public positions. Neither of them will hesitate in ensuring that their daughters, if had an unwanted pregnancy, had abortion available, if that meant they had to fly their child all the way to FRANCE.

  • WmarkW

    Fair enough.

    But every politician tells their constituencies what they want to hear. How often do Democrats tell African-Americans that they need to stop birthing kids into non-marital households, or women that their lower pay reflects their career and work-life balance choices? Or that California is going bankrupt over the education and other governmental expenses of illegal immigrants, who will never pay in taxes what they cost in services?

  • inreasonitrust

    I was taught by both my parents as well as the clergy that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. I accepted it because I was only a child. Now I wonder if this God, similar to human, needs to rest, have children, moves from places to places, heat or cold bothers him, does not like bad odors, becomes happy or sad, etc. I was also told that “God created man in his image.” Now, I understand that “Man created God in his image.”

  • Catken1

    As far as I’m concerned, anyone Mr. Rogers would have considered a neighbor is mine. And that means everyone. (Not excluding non-humans, either – Koko the gorilla was a big fan of his. Greeted him with a hug when she actually met him, then took off his shoes for him.)

  • question1

    I can understand your being upset at Scott’s waste of taxpayer money, but I’m not sure several of your other arguments are a logical basis to fume over Rubio & the “perpetuation of ignorance”. Whatever your opinion of Rubio’s comments, he’s exercising his First Amendment rights.

    How many sitting US Congress Critters can name all the rights in the Bill of Rights? How many can name the content of all Constitutional Amendments? I believe many naturalized US citizens actually learn more about our government & laws than the rest of us. If a Christian can’t pop off all 10 commandments, it doesn’t mean they’re not Christian.

    As long as we all know where to go to look up information – & that’s your sticking point, I know.

    The separation of church & state is vital & has always been achieved by argument within “groups” of legislators. It’s the only way it can be done. We have sitting legislators that apparently currently believe that women generate special anti-pregnancy hormones in the event of a “legitimate” rape. Whodathunk?

    As long as folks like yourself keep writing & speaking, individuals like Scott & Rubio won’t be a serious threat. So I’m glad for your article, even if I don’t agree with all of your logic & I worry about your blood pressure. LOL.

  • Leigh Oats

    A headline I look forward to seeing:

    Among GOP voters, belief in divine creation and intelligent design more common than thought

  • itsthedax

    “Science is not a belief system, or a point of view. Science is the process by which we understand how nature works.” – Brian Cox

    In other words, it doesn’t matter what Mr. Rubio’s constituents want him to say he believes. Belief doesn’t trump facts.

  • Secular1

    “Organic Food” is an exercise in redundancy. Other than common salt, and water I know of no other food ingredients that are not organic – in chemical sense. A case of the “Organic” taken to the extremes was, oce I was taking a flight within India on, now defunct beer airline, KingFischer airlines. They handed each passenger a bottle of water. The labeling of the bottle proudly stated that it was pure Organic water. So i called the attendant and I protested and handed her back the bottle of water and asked if they had any inorganic water – to which the chemistry challenged hostess was baffled. She went to the head hostess and narrated the request, so she came and assured me that the water had no containments. The subtle joke was lost on them.

    Anyway, the genetically modified food is American left’s superstition. It is silly to oppose genetic foods. carefull examination will show all food we cosume even some 5 thousand years ago the food consumed by humans was genetically modified. The current day cow is also a modified from teh original Aurachs.So it is indeed silly to be opposed to teh modern genetic modification techniques. It almost sounds like Amish being OK with the use of wheel technology but opposed to fly wheel technology in the motor cars.


    “Because some parents teach their children that blacks are inferior to whites and women should be subservient to men, does Rubio also think that schools should shrink from offering more modern points of view?”

    You’re talking about a Republican. Of course he does. And he will insist that YOUR child be taught such claptrap as well. Because he’s a Republican.

    Particularly the stuff about blacks and women.

  • Dave Brown 709

    Ignorance! Yes, how troubling that our political system can produce politicians who are so ignorant of the role that science plays in informing us of the realities of the world. And if by chance a particular politician who appears to be that ignorant but truly isn’t that ignorant, the fact that he/she panders to that ignorance is all the more troubling. It is incumbent on all who hold an evidence based world view that we cast votes only for those politicians who have a basic and fundamental understanding of science. Clearly we should withhold our vote for anyone who, when asked whether he believes that the earth is only 6,000 years old, answers, “Hey, man, I’m no scientist.”

  • pelicanwatchcb1

    Another great column by Herb Silverman. I especially appreciate the part where he points out that the first four of the Ten Commandments are unconstitutional. Funny and insightful!

  • persiflage

    ‘Concern about their intersection with poverty, non-marital parenthood, lack of education, and crime is not.’

    Mark, they’re certainly not concerned in any positive way, nor do they propose reasonable solutions to any of the above – quite the contrary. And they seem to know little or nothing about human sexuality (while no doubt practicing plenty of it in the private sphere), and even less about intractible poverty and crime.

    Your guy Romney made 20 million for doing nothing last year while paying a marginal tax rate. That, they understand.

  • Catken1

    Um, before you blame “sexual liberty” in the culture for those problems, you might want to check out the marriage rates and illegitimacy rates in, say, highly moralistic Victorian England. It was worse.
    It’s always been true that poorer and less-well-educated people were less likely to marry and have children within wedlock than wealthier folks.

  • Joel Hardman

    The First Amendment doesn’t make it OK for people to say stupid things. It just says the government can’t stop them.

  • @blamer

    Also: see banana.

    I get it’s weird that we no longer need to wait for selective breeding of 1000s of generations like we’ve always done on farms. I get it. But if you’re modifying genes anyway, then why wait?

    Because you’re more scared of GM than we are hungry for good food?

    Feed the poor. Feed them optimised food. And I’ll have whatever they’re having.

    Did you hear, there’s 7B-10B of us? And we’re hungry now. And we’re hungry always. And we can always be healthier. And stronger. And run faster. And live longer.

    And we’re the only species whose fears include fearing the global medical consensus.